Our Observer is planning on spreading Malian village traditions and sayings via smartphones.
New technologies and ancestral traditions may seem like two completely different worlds. And yet, our Observer is aiming to change that through his new blog through which Malians can share rural culture and traditional sayings, in order to preserve them for younger generations.
Of Mali’s 703 districts, 666 are rural. In remote villages, ancestral traditions still feature prominently. However, traditional wisdom and traditions are in danger of being lost, as there is less and less communication between older and younger generations. Young Malians are increasingly searching for jobs in the big cities and losing their connections with their native villages.
Starting with this observation, Boukary Konaté, a French and Bambara professor in Bamako as well as a FRANCE 24 Observer, chose to launch “When the village awakes”. This burgeoning project aims to create a space to collect and share information about Mali’s traditional cultures. It will include written, audio, and video content to be posted on social networks, with the goal of spreading the wisdom of village elders.
Our Observer Boukary Konaté with a villager in the Ségou region, who spins artisanal cotton fibres.

“Technological innovation is a great opportunity, but it is unthinkable that it should bring about the disappearance of these traditions”

I come from a small village in the Ségou region called Damoussobougou, and the village elders have strongly influenced my life, to this day. My studies brought me to Bamako. But recently, I travelled in the rural areas of the Bandiagara and Sangha regions (in central Mali). There, I witnessed a meeting during which the elderly women of the village were spinning cotton. Ten grandmothers were working together, and around them, little girls were cooking for the older women. It was a fascinating scene.
In many of these villages, people are worried that such traditions may be lost: for instance, many young Dogons [Editor’s note: a rural Malian people living in the Bandiagara plateau] that studied in Bamako are returning to their villages and launching shea butter businesses. They build windmills, which increase productivity, to crush the fruit. Traditionally, this activity is reserved for the village women, who pick and crush the shea nuts using a pestle, each in turn, using a large mortar. The increasing use of modern methods is killing, little by little, this type of community tradition that structures the social lives of these villages.
I am not a hypocrite. Technological progress is a great opportunity, as it allows us to be more efficient and save time. But innovation is also what we make of it: it is unthinkable to me that it should bring about the disappearance of these traditions that are crucial to village life. And now, the Internet is our best hope of saving them for posterity.
In the region, writings on the ground, like hieroglyphs, are left to be deciphered.
“In Mali, the village elders say, ‘When you forget where you’re from, you don’t know where you’re going”
When I talk to villagers about the Internet, they at first look puzzled and tell me that it’s abstract, and that it won’t bring them jobs or food. Then I take out my computer and show them that the web is a treasure trove of knowledge. When I typed in the name of one of the villages I went to, Macina, into a search engine, we discovered that there was a city in Serbia that had the same name! I explained to the villagers that they could also make their mark, both for future Malian generations and also for the entire world.
On the project’s Facebook page, Boukary Konaté is fostering dialogue about poorly-known traditions. This post reads shows a Togouna, which is meeting space for Dogon elders. "Question: Why is the roof so low?"
My goal is to show the diversity of Malian culture. To that end, I am working on connecting nine villages in three different regions — Kayes, Ségou, and Timbuktu — to create a blog that the local residents will ultimately be able to update themselves. I will take care of training them in producing content, taking photos, and using a blogging platform. One of the highlights will be village elders delivering a sort of “saying of the week”, filmed on video. Of course, the main obstacle is cost: I estimate that it will cost about 4 million CFA francs [roughly 6,000 euros] over the course of two years, mainly to buy computers for the villages and pay for 3G Internet connections.
In Mali, village elders often repeat this proverb: “When you forget where you’re from, you don’t know where you’re going”. This is a collaborative project, so anybody can help build it, for instance by uploading photos and explaining the customs of their native village.
Our Observer has launched an online fundraiser to finance his project.
Post written with FRANCE 24 journalist Alexandre Capron (@alexcapron).